Whale watching has become a favourite pastime with Australians and visitors. The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is so named because of its long pectoral fins (in Greek ‘megas’ means great and ‘pteron’ means wing). It is the fifth largest of all the whales with examples reported up to 15 metres long and around 40 tonnes in weight. The females grow to a slightly greater length than the males.

Humpbacks are generally black on their backs and white on their underside although there have been several sightings in Hervey Bay of all-black whales. An all-white humpback called ‘Migaloo’ visits the Gold Coast on occasions and this generates a great deal of excitement as good photos of the whale are still rare.

Barnacles often form on the Humpback’s jaw, pectoral fins and the edges of the tail fluke. On its head it has a number of tubercles (round knobs) from each of which grows a long thick hair. These are believed to be sensors.

It is understood that humpback whales can reach an age of fifty years, perhaps even more, but this age of course was seldom reached during the years of commercial whaling.

It appears that adults continue a regular visiting cycle, to the Gold Coast Coast.

Humpbacks are large sea animals. They weigh approx 40 tons and they can be up to 65 feet long. Humpback whales are very agile and they can propel themselves with a help of their tail fin. Their tail fins also help them to make high jumps and arcs up out of the water.

Description

It is easy to identify different humpback whales by their stocky body and hump with black coloring. Their head and lower jaw are covered by special hair follicles that are called tubercles. They have long black and white tail fins. Their pectoral fins have specific patterns, these patterns make it much easier to identify individual whales.

When the humpback whale surfaces you can see the stubby dorsal fin however the dorsal fin is not visible when the tail fins emerge. Humpback whales have an exhalation of water through their blowholes. Their blow is usually about 10 feet high and it has bushy or heart shape.

Diet

Humpbacks eat both animals and plants. They use special filters that are on their jaws, to filtrate plankton, krill and fish. They eat almost a ton of food each day. Most Humpbacks feed in summer only and after that, they use the fat stored in their body.

They have a very interesting fishing technique that is different from any other whales. It is called bubble netting, it is a group effort and every whale has a different mission in the group. The first one blows bubbles and swims around a group of fish while the other whales make noises and vocalizations. This scares the fish upward and when the fish are at surface the whales eat as much fish as they can.

Migration

Humpback whales can be found in many oceans and seas. During summer, they move to the colder seas for feeding and during winter they mate and give birth in the warmer seas and oceans. During their migration Humpbacks sometimes come close to shores and in the past this used to make them easy targets for hunters.

Humpback whales sometimes live in groups, these groups are called pods. Pods are loose groups, that means some of the whales leave the group during travels. Many whales live separated from the groups and act as individuals.

Groups stay together for a longer time during the summer, during this time they co-operate in order to forage and feed.

Singing

Humpback whales sing through howls and moans. The Males produce songs, the purpose of these are to attract a mate. Males also use songs to fend off other male competitors during mating season. These songs are very complex with each song consisting of different sounds that vary in frequency and amplitude, they usually last 10 to 20 minutes, and can change during different seasons.

Protection

Humpback whales have a lot of threats. In the past people hunted humpbacks however in 1966, the whales became endangered species and many conservation laws were put in place to protect the remaining population.

Humpbacks are often curious, easily approachable and they display interesting behavior. Because of this, whale watching is popular in many locations around the world. It is an enjoyable and interesting experience.